More so than “grab ‘em by the pussy,” more so than “basket of deplorables,” more so than “nasty woman,” and more so than email scandals, the moment that seemed to seriously underline just how absurd this election cycle was came when Hillary Clinton noted that whilst she was performing her duties as the Secretary of State, Donald Trump was busy judging The Celebrity Apprentice.
If ever a single sentence has summed up how absurd the race to the highest office in the world had become then there it was. It was at that moment that made it abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton was obviously the superior candidate, and proved just how out of depth her opponent was. That said opponent would go on to not only win, but win big, speaks volumes about how much the Democratic party has changed over the last eight years since the ascendancy of Barack Obama.
At the moment we’re so close to the event horizon that is a Donald Trump presidency – in many respects we haven’t even crossed that event horizon – that it’s still difficult to process just how strange the next four years are going to be. This was, after all, an election cycle that turned Pepe the frog into a hate figure, that saw Megyn Kelly, a woman who has previously spent weeks arguing about the ethnicity of Santa Claus, become something of a champion for modern feminism, and that saw disagreeable but otherwise intelligent pundits like Milo Yiannopoulos metamorphose into little more than court jesters. In other words, this election caused previously held certainties to be utterly upended. [pullquote]In other words, this election caused previously held certainties to be utterly upended. [/pullquote]
This has created a cloud of uncertainty around what’s going to happen over the next few years and it’s likely that this uncertainty will, in a broad sense, forgive Hillary Clinton. Much has already been said about Mrs. Clinton’s flaws as a candidate – her open alliance with Wall Street, her proud associations with elderly villains like Henry Kissinger, her seeming insincerity. Something that’s largely been glossed over, however, is how much her candidacy – and assumed victory – felt very much like the end of a story rather than the beginning of a new one.
The first time I, and I’d wager quite a lot of people around my age, seriously paid attention to politics was in 2008 when Barack Obama became the first African American elected President. Obama personified change, something deeply impressive to a 13 year old. Even as I’ve gotten older and more cynical, Obama’s rise is something that still doesn’t fail to impress.
Obama came from a single parent household, a background that wasn’t particularly well off and additionally he was relatively young when elected President. These factors aside, he had managed to get elected on a platform that promised genuinely liberal principles. The significance of this can’t be overstated because this was a move that brought the Democratic party back to it’s original principals after being moved to the right by Bill Clinton in the early 1990s. Christopher Hitchens has gone so far as to describe Mr. Clinton’s political manoeuvring as being one that turned the party into “bedfellows of the rich and the powerful” (if Hitch is to be believed, Clinton sealed his presidency by authorising the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally deficient black man, in 1992; a dog whistle to those on the right disillusioned with Reagan and Bush).
Along with his trade deals and financial de-regulation, Mr. Clinton’s premiership saw the democrats lose sight of the very people they were supposed to be standing up for, and that’s precisely why Barack Obama’s promises about change and hope were so important in 2008. This is largely why Hillary Clinton’s candidacy represented not only a regression to the democrats at large, but a threat to American political idealism as a whole… A threat that has been looming since the days of JFK’s Camelot.[pullquote]2016’s winning campaign was like a perverse inverse of 2008’s, substituting hope and optimism (“Yes We Can”) for nihilism and anger (“Make America Great Again”)[/pullquote]
America, as a state, in many ways represents the first time that ideas by thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques-Rousseau were put into place. These enlightenment philosophers defined and created what we today call freedom, and it’s from them that the idea emerges that a state should be ruled by and for the people. America is to be admired because it at least pretends to offer this idea. One of the reasons why this election cycle was so disheartening is because for a while it seemed as though political dynasties might be a force to be reckoned with.
About 14 months ago, it seemed as though Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would be going toe to toe, a prospect only slightly less dismal than the eventual one we got. Surely this signals the decline of the American ideal more than politics being passed around between a few families. Mrs. Clinton’s argument for candidacy has been described by virtually every major news organisation as being effectively too “it’s my turn” – the type of pleading that one might expect to hear from a despotic royal. Her campaign slogan “stronger together,” and logo felt blandly corporate, as though focus grouped and test audienced to within an inch of its life.
2016’s winning campaign was like a perverse inverse of 2008’s, substituting hope and optimism (“Yes We Can”) for nihilism and anger (“Make America Great Again”), to create the feeling of a visceral population voting out a dull establishment. Make no mistake, Clinton, who was detailed in leaked emails to be very meticulously putting voters into brackets the way a corporation does consumers, was the establishment this time around. Given that Clinton and the DNC so nakedly abandoned the very people that Obama pledged to help in favour of the elite, can it really be much of a surprise that this election was, for lack of a better term, snapped up by a billionaire, who would go on to deliver his victory speech from an ivory tower in New York?
Shortly after the election, Enda Kenny sent a congratulatory note to Donald Trump – the logic of which was that that we now have to spent the next few years acting “nice” towards a man who is, at best, totally out of his depth and, at worst, the embodiment of maxim that power corrupts. As this rough beast-Trump and cabal of far right cronies slouches towards the White House it’s looking increasingly likely that America’s global influence will recede and create a power vacuum – the likes of which have never been seen in the world.
It might mean, therefore, that we’ll have to start learning how to be “nice” to a wide variety of groups. How should we be “nice” to an authoritarian and increasingly theocratic Russia that’s set to bully Eurasia unchecked? How should we be “nice” to fanatic ayatollah’s in Iran who could conceivably have nuclear capability in the near future? How should we be “nice” to corporate giants that will continue to plunder and ravage our natural world even as the climate makes its final dying gasps? This is the legacy that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic party leaves behind, and unless the left is able to make serious grassroots connections again we might have to start thinking of some answers very, very soon.